Despite the graduations of five .300-plus hitting seniors, offensive production hasn’t been an issue for the Buchanan High softball team.
The defending Division I champions are averaging 6.5 runs per game during a 9-1 start that has the Bears ranked No. 4 in the Central Section by The Bee heading into their Tri-River Athletic Conference opener Friday at home against rival Clovis.
Among Buchanan’s conquests so far are five ranked teams in No. 9 Madera, No. 10 Bullard, No. 14 Hanford, No. 16 El Diamante and No. 18 Kingsburg. But the stakes rise significantly Friday against the No. 5 Cougars in a rematch of last season’s D-I final, won 2-0 by the Bears in a thriller played at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Buchanan Softball Complex.
“I feel real good, but I know in our league, you cannot take a day off. Everyone is tough. You’ve always got to be ready to play,” said Buchanan’s Dean Gregory, The Bee’s reigning Coach of the Year. “The hardest part of our season is ahead of us.”
Never miss a local story.
A pair of freshmen – center fielder/leadoff hitter Emily Cazares and first baseman/cleanup hitter Avery Lawley – have stepped in to help ease the loss of Bee Player of the Year Sienna Swain, All-Bee selections Faith Rousey, Spencer Sansom and Starr Vang, as well as .333-hitting Hunter Sansom, who collectively helped the Bears go 26-5 last season.
During Bucnanan’s 4-3 win over defending section D-II champion Madera last week, Cazares and Lawley combined for five of the Bears’ nine hits.
“Neither one acts like a freshman,” Gregory said. “They both play with a lot of poise and maturity.”
Buchanan has also been bolstered by the return of Nebraska-committed catcher Anni Raley, Stanford-bound pitcher Molly Millar and second baseman Katie Jackson, who hit .396 last season.
The emergence of sophomore shortstop Claire Buckley, who was a sparingly used reserve last season, has also helped, as has the return to form of control specialist pitcher/outfielder Katie January, who was the TRAC Player of the Year as a sophomore two seasons ago, but saw her production dip last season while playing through injuries.
Millar and January give Gregory the luxury of a one-two pitching punch few teams in the section can match.
“It’s really nice,” Gregory said. “If one of them is off, you’ve got someone else you can put in who you are confident in, too.”
Central Section softball rankings
(Records through March 25)
- 1. Stockdale (13-0)
- 2. Central (9-2)
- 3. Hanford West (10-1-1)
- 4. Buchanan (9-1)
- 5. Clovis (9-1)
- 6. Selma (4-3-1)
- 7. Monache (13-0)
- 8. Clovis East (8-4)
- 9. Madera (6-3)
- 10. Bullard (4-6)
- 11. Liberty-Bakersfield (9-3)
- 12. Tulare Western (9-4)
- 13. Hanford (6-5)
- 14. Mission Oak (6-3)
- 15. Redwood (6-7)
- 16. El Diamante (6-6-1)
- 17. Sanger (9-4-1)
- 18. Kingsburg (6-6)
- 19. Clovis West (5-4)
- 20. Tehachapi (9-4-1)
D-I: 1. 1. Stockdale, 2. Central; 3. Hanford West
D-II: 1. Monache, 2. Madera, 3. Tulare Western
D-III: 1. Hanford, 2. Tehachapi; 3. Independence (8-6)
D-IV: 1. Selma, 2. Mission Oak, 3. Dos Palos (9-2-1)
D-V: 1. Coalinga (9-1), 2. Sierra (4-0), 3. Roosevelt (8-0)
D-VI: 1. Central Valley Christian (6-2), 2. Orange Cove (6-6), 3. Frazier Mountain (5-0)